For many South Africans, the December summer break means road-tripping along one of our national highways. It’s one of the busiest times on our roads and by default, one of the most frustrating times for motorists. As thousands of people embark on their well-deserved Christmas holidays, congestion escalates and impatience mounts, leading to irritation, road rage, reckless driving… and ultimately road accidents.

If you look at the numbers, an increase in traffic volumes almost always equals an increase in fatalities on our roads. So how do you steer clear of the gridlock to avoid the dangers of holiday traffic? Here are some holiday travel tips to stay safe on our roads:

1. Have a good attitude

Besides obeying the rules of the road, one of the most important holiday travel tips is to maintain a good attitude. Exercise patience, tolerance and even graciousness. Give other motorists a gap where you can and avoid aggressive driving at all costs. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Plan your route

Typically, traffic volumes on all South Africa’s major routes increase over the December break, especially on the N3, and N1 and N2 to Cape Town, as holiday-makers go to various destinations. Always have an alternative route in mind, and stay up to date with road conditions and traffic issues on your planned route. Check out our road conditions calculator.

3. Get your timing right

If possible, stagger your travel dates to avoid the peak times. Traffic usually picks up in the week that school closes (this year, from 12 December). Expect heavy traffic on that Friday, December 14, just ahead of the long weekend. Also, Christmas falls on a Tuesday, so traffic should start peaking on the previous Friday, December 21. And because New Year’s Day falls on a Tuesday, and public schools reopen on January 8 (also a Tuesday), this will more than likely mean that traffic will peak on the Mondays before.

4. Keep your car in tip-top shape

Apart from the right attitude on the roads, you also need to ensure that your vehicle is in excellent condition as breakdowns lead to even more congestion. Another holiday travel tip is to have your car checked sooner, rather than later, as there may be a rush from many motorists wanting to make last minutes repairs.

5. Stay sane in the city

It doesn’t matter whether you’re heading to Cape Town (the most congested city in South Africa), Durban or Gqeberha, not everyone is on holiday, and there’s still such a thing as rush hour. Try and plan ahead to avoid morning and afternoon peak traffic and stay sane in the city.

Here are the most popular national roads during the festive season:

N1: The “nash” (national) highway stretches all the way from Cape Town to the Beit Bridge border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is the main route between Cape Town and Johannesburg, which makes it a very busy one during the festive season as Gautengers make their way to and from the Cape.

N2: This route is the main highway along South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, running all the way from Cape Town to Ermelo in Mpumalanga via Gqeberha, East London and Durban.

N3: Connecting Johannesburg and Durban, this route is also a much busier one as people head to the KZN seaside, which is much closer than the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape.

Remember: going on a long journey is not a race. Arriving safely is more important than reaching your destination in ‘record time.’ Plus, preparing for a road trip by having the right attitude, a clear mind, and well-maintained car is as important as the holiday itself.

Safe and happy motoring!